This semester, my classes segregate weekdays by discipline: anthropology and philosophy. Herein begins a series (“Open the Door”) hoping to capture the essence of my recent academic focuses.
Anthro days begin with a class concerning the dynamics of social and cultural change, especially those changes that result in the currently dominant system of industrial globalized capitalism. We’re studying the changes instituted in the US to keep race a category of disparity and inequality, not difference – from the histories of slavery, solidarity of post-Reconstruction Populists, antebellum Jim Crow laws, Civil Rights Movements, into the War on Drugs and the increasingly profit-driven criminal justice system. Note: my professor (emeritus) has the right to provide us with controversial material, and his personal experience as a lower-class white male growing up in Texas continues to inform his decisions for class.
I won’t bore you with all sorts of stats on the issues at the heart of the changes that continue to target the bottom 15% of the US population, specifically minorities, on behalf and for the profit of the top elites. People least benefitting from the system are non-violent drug users, barred from legitimate economic activity, turning to the next best thing…be that marijuana, crack cocaine, or methamphetamine. I also put the general profiled population under this category, for reckless loss of private property (law enforcement have the right to seize any property or assets they “believe have connection to drugs” or simply want under a drug-related pretext). (My home county has one of the highest meth lab bust rates in Iowa, so learning about the issue from a non-publicized perspective was enlightening.)
People benefitting the most from the system include prison-building corporations, private prison CEOs, prison guards and other service sectors, law enforcement (receiving federal and state funds for narcotics training and technologies as well as the confiscated property), politicians for scoring points with the unquestioning public, middle-class whites, etc. For example: most prisons nowadays are privatized, funneling profits to the executives, just like any other for-profit corporations. These prisons dominate prison towns by offering large numbers of gainful employment. Of course, the prisons don’t make money unless the prison cells are filled (taxpayer money funds a lot of the penal system). In considering closing a prison, the town, dependent on its funds and employment opportunities, has a ridiculously hard time envisioning or creating a local economy outside of the prison complex. After all, if minorities climb up the socioeconomic ladder (which is, of course, unilinear) how will middle-class white men maintain their economic advantage?
Our central book right now is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. The chosen materials present a view of change as facilitated and determined by the elites in power, as established quantitatively through the race for ever-larger amounts of liquid financial capital.